Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014. I acknowledge the contribution made by the member for Berowra. He has extensive experience and knowledge in this area and it is good to see he is supporting this bill.
This bill, which amends the Migration Act 1958, will make changes to the way asylum seekers are assessed. The amendments the bill makes to the Migration Act are necessary to ensure the protection and determination system is as efficient and fair as possible. In particular, the amendments aim to strengthen the importance placed on establishing the identity of the applicant and the cooperation of the applicant throughout that application process. Their implementation will further assist the government in guaranteeing that only those with genuine claims to asylum receive a place under Australia's protection system.
The government is proud of Australia's protection program for the role it plays in giving thousands of people every year, who are unable to remain in or return to their home countries for fear of persecution of violence, the opportunity to settle in Australia. In 2014-15, the government will again ensure that 11,000 of the 13,750 places in the humanitarian program are for people overseas in need of resettlement, including 1,000 places reserved for women at risk and their dependents and 5,000 places for people proposed by close family under the Special Humanitarian Program. By stopping the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals, the government has been able to revive the Special Humanitarian Program, which has seen thousands of people resettled in Australia. This year alone, 4,400 places will be offered to Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq and Syria.
I am pleased to speak today on a bill which will ensure that those who genuinely require Australia's assistance will continue to receive it. Schedule 1 of the bill contains amendments making it undeniable that the responsibility for establishing identity and claims for protection lie with the applicant. It is not the job of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection nor of the Refugee Review Tribunal to establish a case for the asylum seeker. Despite what those opposite and those on the crossbenches may say, this shift in responsibility will align the Australian system with that of the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. I know the shadow minister, the member for Corio, just said that Labor does support the bulk of this bill but will oppose the second reading and move to make some amendments.
The importance of an applicant's identity when processing a visa application cannot be overstated. For protection visa applicants their nationality, citizenship or ethnicity may bear direct relevance as to whether or not they engage Australia's protection obligations. Under these amendments asylum seekers who refuse to provide, or to take reasonable steps to provide, documents to establish their identity will be refused a protection visa. As the minister noted in his speech, an applicant who will not cooperate with the government to establish their identity should not receive a protection visa. In accordance with the renewed emphasis on the establishment of identity these amendments to 91W, and the introduction of 91WA, will see those who present bogus documents refused a protection visa unless they can prove they have a reasonable explanation for presenting them and can then provide, or take reasonable steps to provide, genuine documents.
Attempting to limit the use of bogus documents will continue to increase the integrity of the immigration process and limit the profitability of a trade which, like people smuggling, is the work of criminals who prey on vulnerable people. Similarly, those who destroy or dispose of their documents prior to arrival in Australia who do not have a reasonable explanation for doing so, and who do not take steps to establish their genuine identity, will be refused a protection visa.
I believe the Australian public deserves to be able to take comfort in the knowledge the government knows the true identity of all those wishing to make Australia their home. This is of particular importance given the growing threat of terrorism from around the globe. It was only last week that Australians woke to the news of the largest counter-terrorism operation ever to take place in Australia and the gruesome details of proposed terror attacks in Sydney and Brisbane and here at Parliament House. These attacks were to target innocent individuals and were designed to spread fear throughout the community. While this threat was a result of home-grown terrorism, it would be foolish for anyone to deny the existence of noncitizens who would seek to harm Australians and the freedoms we cherish if given the chance. It would also be foolish to suggest, given the threat of terrorism and the potential risks dangerous individuals pose to Australia, that the establishment of an applicant's true identity is not of vital importance.
In addition to requiring an asylum seeker to establish their identity these amendments will also require them to present as much information as possible in their initial claim for protection through the introduction of provision 423A. If an asylum seeker fails to do so they risk the Refugee Review Tribunal drawing an adverse inference about the credibility of their protection claim, if they raise a new claim or new evidence at the Refugee Review Tribunal for the first time.
This amendment will assist in seeing claims processed as quickly and fairly as possible, allowing the genuine asylum seekers to progress through the application process faster. Most importantly, this amendment seeks to stop those who are not genuine refugees from exploiting the Refugee Review Tribunal by presenting new claims or evidence at this stage and delaying the final decision process, sometimes for considerable lengths of time, as these claims are examined.
As always, the government has included safety nets for those who cannot provide documentary evidence of their identity or who will struggle with their primary application for a protection visa. For example, unaccompanied minors or those who are genuinely stateless and cannot provide evidence of nationality may have their claims assessed without the appropriate documents if the reasons for not providing documentation are consistent with the known facts regarding their home country. Additional assistance may be available to asylum seekers who arrive lawfully, and who are disadvantaged or face financial hardship, through the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme.
Similarly to the pride we have in our protection program, the government is proud of Australia's comprehensive and fair family migration program. We believe that this is the appropriate path under which family reunion should occur.
This bill, through the addition of section 91WB to the Migration Act, will clarify the government's position so that members of the same family unit who were not included in an application or did not make an application prior to the granting of a protection visa, cannot be granted one on the basis of being a member of the same family unit as a protection visa holder. That does not mean that members of the same family unit cannot be granted a protection visa. It simply means that they will need to make a protection visa application and prove that they, in their own right, engage Australia's protection obligations.
The introduction of 91WB is necessary in order to prevent any potential abuse of Australia's protection program in the interests of family migration. It is also aimed at stopping the illegal arrival of those who expect to be granted a protection visa due to a family member holding one. Again, whilst those opposite may protest, I would like to point out that there is no right to family reunification under international law and that, as previously stated in the case of family reunification, the family migration stream is the most appropriate pathway.
As a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Australia is required to abide by a number of non-refoulement obligations. Schedule 2 of this bill inserts section 6A into the Migration Act to clarify that the threshold to be satisfied when considering complementary protection claims as a part of a protection visa application is restored to 'more likely than not'. The threshold was altered in March 2013 when the full Federal Court interpreted the complementary protection provisions in a way the government believes is not reflective of Australia's protection obligations.
The aim of restoring the original threshold is to ensure that an applicant is not found to engage Australia's protection threshold when they are not entitled to it. Again, it is about ensuring that genuine asylum seekers can access places in Australia's protection program. Despite the success of the government's border protection policies in stopping boats there remain a number of unauthorised maritime arrivals with protection visa claims to be processed. Schedule 3 contains amendments relating specifically to the ability of unauthorised maritime arrivals to make a valid visa application. The amendments will remove the possibility of unauthorised maritime arrivals being subject to multiple sections of the Migration Act by broadening the application of section 46A. This will ensure that unauthorised maritime arrivals who are unlawful non-citizens, holders of a bridging visa or a temporary protection visa will be prevented from making a valid visa application unless the minister determines it is in the public interest for them to do so.
These amendments will also apply to transitionary persons to ensure that they are treated consistently with unauthorised marine arrivals. As with the other amendments I have discussed today, these amendments will result in greater efficiency in the processing and management of visa applications. The amendments in schedule 4 of the bill will improve the consistency and the processing and administrative efficiency of the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal by strengthening the powers of the principal member, permitting the acceptance of an oral statement of reasons from members, in the case of an oral decision, and granting the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal the power to dismiss an application as a result of an applicant failing to appear before the tribunal after being invited to do so.
The tribunals will also have the power to reinstate an application that has previously been dismissed due to failure to appear. In summary, the amendments contained in this legislation will allow the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to easily identify and respond to those who attempt to falsely engage Australia's protection obligations. They will encourage increased integrity and efficiency in the processing of both on-shore and off-shore protection claims whilst ensuring that Australia remains safe and that only those with genuine claims for asylum have access to protection visas. I commend the bill to the House.